UNISON general secretary calls on men to stand ‘beside’ women

Christina McAnea addresses women’s conference and stresses the need for the union to be more representative of its million female members

screenshot of Christina McAnea addressing women's conference

Christina McAnea today issued a clarion call for “husbands, fathers, sons and brothers” to stand with women in the struggle for equality, as she addressed the union’s women’s conference.

The quote from the Scottish Women’s Anthem, by Sharon Martin, continues: “united we’ll fight for each other”. It is a line, said the general secretary, “that means a lot to me – because equality, feminism and empowerment are not just the responsibility of women.

“It’s when we all stand together, and when we get the men and the other people in our lives to stand with us – not in front of us, but beside us – that our force becomes even more unstoppable”.

UNISON’s first woman leader had opened by thanking the members who are in the front line today, continuing to provide essential services even as violent storms make landfall in the UK. Sending best wishes to everyone facing the danger, she added: “I honour your strength and bravery”.

And Ms McAnea went on to list a few of the women activists she has worked with over the years and how she has found inspiration in “their strength and bravery”.

There are “school support staff knowing more about contracts and pay than their employers,” there were the women of Glasgow Council who won an epic struggle for equal pay.

There were the NHS workers taking strike action – “and all our women, Black, LGBT+ and disabled members, who make our self-organised groups such a formidable force in our union”.

Broadening her theme, she told conference that “women’s work is too often undervalued, invisible and ignored”.

It was women who kept society going, Ms McAnea observed. How? Because it is “women who do sleep-ins to care for other people’s elderly or disabled relatives, but don’t get paid for every hour”.

It is “women cleaning hospitals, council buildings and schools to prevent the spread of viruses and keep us all safe”.

It is “women doing admin and project work in local councils, schools, colleges and universities, and energy companies, to make sure essential services keep running”.

And of course, like so many women, she was also “certain” that many of those listening “are also doing unpaid care work”.

Christina McAnea at the rostrum

Stressing the increased inequality caused by the pandemic, with the gender pay gap widening in this time, she said that it was “time for a real change.

“We can’t allow them to invest in only male-dominated work.

“Just look at the way the media and politicians responded to the lack of HGV drivers. Of course it’s right that these drivers should get decent pay for a demanding job.

“But if this government can act quickly to get more HGV drivers into the UK – to train them and to pay them more – then they can act quickly to sort out staff shortages in social care or the NHS or in social work”.

And if the government “find the money” to write off dodgy PPE deals and fraudulent claims for COVID cash help, then it can find the money to pay decent wages.

The key to facing these challenges is in the union’s strength – and that comes from being representative of the membership.

She noted that, while “75% of the membership is women, leadership positions don’t reflect that.

“We have made progress, but we can’t take that for granted”. She stressed the need for everyone to be involved in taking the union forward. “We also need to hear from the women who aren’t involved.

“Although UNISON was built on that principle of proportionality, it relies on a constant effort – from everyone in the union – to bring it to life and to keep it alive.

“Because if we don’t keep fighting for it, nobody else will.”

It’s UNISON that’s making employers change to “make the workplace better for women”. And when workplaces are better for women – they’re better for everyone.